In the spring of 2010, I decided to bite the bullet and do something I’ve always wanted to do: take six months out of my life to live abroad, sample another culture and way of life, and study Spanish in a language school. I thought what better place to do so than the sizzling hot city of Marbella, a millionaire’s playground on Spain’s stunning Costa del Sol, a place close to my heart having travelled there extensively with my parents as a child.
I arrived to a spacious apartment, which I was to share with three other students in the language school. It was fully furnished and equipped with all the essentials in the kitchen, a large lounge with dining table, television area and two bathrooms with views of the sea and the picturesque mountains that server as Marbella's dramatic backdrop. The first thing I did was fling open the doors to my private balcony terrace, from which I had perfect views overlooking the city below. My location was perfect: two minutes' walk to the beachfront, right in the centre of everything going on and eagerly anticipating where my journey might take me over the next few months. All I had on my mind at this point was paella, picadors and Puerto Banus!
My first impressions of the city were that it had a real charm and elegance about it, not only the city itself but the Spaniards too. It was deliciously luxurious with long, open sandy beaches and crystal blue seas. It was definitely a real paradise to experience traditional Spanish tapas along the promenade, spend all day people watching along the quaint coastal villages, partake in some flamenco dancing and tour some of the world’s most famous bullrings.
Right in the heart of the main strip of Avenida Ricardo Soriano was Casco Antiguo, the old town of Plaza de los Naranjo’s or Orange Square. This beautifully coloured town square plays host to restaurants, shops, a town hall, a church, tapas bars and cafe’s, all full of Spaniards going about their daily chores and tourists escaping the sweltering heat. It was real Spanish culture at its best with white tables covered in brightly covered tablecloths, luscious custard filled pastries, traditional Spanish musicians with matching flamenco dancers and smartly dressed waiters ready to meet your every need.
During the summer, Marbella celebrated the San Bernabe Festival, kicking it off with glittering fireworks on the beach at midnight a week after I arrived. The festival offered spectacular street processions, with little girls and boys festooned in flamenco and matador outfits dancing through the streets, and a bullfight taking place every day. It was fascinating to watch, and gave me a real vibrant atmosphere to soak up.
I was able to do many fun things with the friends I made throughout my stay in Spain: everything from water sports, jet skiing and pedalos to eating out in the evening, watching shows and taking horse-and-carriage rides around Marbella and surrounding towns and villages. We also went on cable car rides, had late night ice cream on the beach and relaxed at a famous lavish hotspot called the Buddha Bar, where we sipped homemade mojitos long into the night.
Travelling extensively along the Costa del Sol, I was able to take in the sights in Malaga, Torremolinos, Benalmadena Costa and Gibraltar, famous for the Rock that bears its name, the Barbary apes and St. Michael’s Caves. Other ports-of-call on my journey included the narrow, cobbled streets and orange trees of Ronda - home to the oldest bullring in Spain - and the white-washed fishing port of Estepona, better known as chiringuito central, where fish is the way of life for three meals a day and where the beaches are vast and clean. I moved on to Mijas Pueblo, with its quaint donkey rides, chunky Spanish omelettes and the smallest bullring in Spain, before finally making my way to the port of Fuengirola, where dolphin rides and local excursions await many of the tourists who pass through.
My favourite stop by far, however, was the wealthy, white-painted town of Puerto Banus, home to boutique shopping, fine al fresco dining and yachts to die for! I spent many a day taking the catamaran from the port of Marbella over to Puerto Banus to enjoy sampling the life of the rich and famous for a few hours. I did plenty of retail therapy at the famous Spanish department store El Corte Ingles, had a supercar ride in a Ferrari & sunbathed at the exclusive Ocean Club on Nikki Beach.
Few love football as the Spaniards do, and I was lucky enough to be there when Spain won the World Cup (Mundial), in 2010. The whole country came alive with celebration; the noise was phenomenal! The Spanish certainly like to fiesta in style.
Overall, I came home feeling like my trip to Marbella was magical, and I took from it precious memories my time there, the people I met and its glistening coastline. From fairytale sandcastles to designer boutiques, Marbella and the Costa del Sol really does have it all.